Older women unaware of higher breast cancer risk

Cancer Research UK

Many older women, who are no longer routinely invited for breast screening, are not aware that increasing age is a major risk factor for the disease - according to a report published today in the British Journal of Cancer.

In a national survey, researchers sent questionnaires to more than 700 British women aged between 67 and 73 to find out what they knew about breast cancer symptoms, their awareness of their personal risk of developing breast cancer and how confident they were of detecting any breast change.

They found that while 85 per cent of women recognised a lump as a sign of breast cancer, more than half the women failed to identify symptoms such as nipple rash, skin redness or a change in breast size.

Half the women thought the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer was one in 100 instead of one in nine. And 75 per cent did not know that the risk of developing breast cancer increased with age at all.

Professor Amanda Ramirez, director of the Cancer Research UK London psychosocial group and lead author of the report, will be presenting the results of the study at the National Cancer Research Institute’s annual conference in Birmingham later today (Wednesday).

She said: “The lack of awareness about breast cancer among older women is especially serious as they are more at risk of breast cancer, more likely to delay going to the doctor with symptoms and also have poorer survival from the disease.

“Older women need to be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to detect breast changes and get them checked by a doctor.

“Because women are not invited for screening over the age of 70* it means that older women who have an increased risk of breast cancer are not routinely protected by the National Breast Screening Programme, although mammograms are available on request.

“It is important to remember that more than one in three breast symptoms in women over 65 are due to cancer, while only one in 10 symptoms in younger women are caused by cancer.”

This study adds to the evidence that levels of cancer awareness in general are low in the UK. Mike Richards, the National Cancer Director and Harpal Kumar, the Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK are leading a new national initiative to improve cancer awareness and early diagnosis called NAEDI (National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative).

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information said: “Early detection and diagnosis of cancer can lead to better outcomes for patients. We may detect cancer earlier by encouraging greater awareness of cancer generally and more specific understanding of the signs and symptoms of cancer for those at higher risk.”

Ends

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Notes to Editor

*Screening invitations are sent out every three years usually to women between the ages of 50-70. There are plans to lower the age to 47 and in some areas women may not yet be receiving invitations over 70 but the scheme to include 70-73 year olds is being rolled out round the country.

Ages may vary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Eighty per cent of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women over 50 and approximately 30 per cent occur in women over 70. Five year survival decreases in breast cancer patients over 70 going from 80 per cent in the under 70s down to 66 per cent in those aged 70-79 and just 47 per cent for women over 80.

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About the NCRI Cancer Conference

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference is the UK’s premier forum for disseminating advances across all aspects of cancer research.

About the NCRI

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) was established in April 2001. It is a UK-wide partnership between the government, charity and industry which promotes co-operation in cancer research among the 21 member organisations for the benefit of patients, the public and the scientific community. NCRI members are: the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI); Association for International Cancer Research; Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Breakthrough Breast Cancer; Breast Cancer Campaign; Cancer Research UK; CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA, Department of Health; Economic and Social Research Council; Leukaemia Research; Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Macmillan Cancer Support; Marie Curie Cancer Care; Medical Research Council; Northern Ireland Health and Social Care (Research & Development Office); Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation; Scottish Government Health Directorates (Chief Scientist Office); Tenovus; Welsh Assembly Government (Wales Office of Research and Development for Health & Social Care); The Wellcome Trust; and Yorkshire Cancer Research.